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Voluntary patients

Information about people who voluntarily go to a hospital to seek psychiatric treatment for mental health issues they have.

Voluntary patients are not covered by the Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022. However the objectives of the Act include:

  • a broad range of treatment options with the aim of providing access to the same treatment and support irrespective of whether a person is receiving voluntary or compulsory treatment;
  • a broad and accessible range of voluntary treatment and support options to
    • enable a reduction in the use of compulsory assessment and treatment; and
    • enable a reduction in the use of seclusion and restraint with the aim of eliminating its use within 10 years.

Voluntary patients are not eligible for assistance from the Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA)(opens in a new window) team unless they are in danger of being made a compulsory patient.

Any person can seek to get treatment and be admitted to hospital for treatment. A person who admits themselves is a voluntary patient. The person can do this in a public or private hospital.

As a voluntary patient, the person can only be given treatment if they agree to this. They consent to the treatment.

Leaving the hospital

Because they are voluntary, they may leave hospital at any time. They may also be discharged from hospital by the authorised psychiatrist. The Act makes it clear that voluntary treatment is to be preferred to compulsory treatment.

The Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles brequire mental health and wellbeing service providers to support the dignity and autonomy of people living with mental illness or psychological distress; ensure people are involved in decisions about their treatment, care and support; recognise the role of families, carers and supporters; and ensure the service system responds to the diverse needs and preferences of Victorians.

See sections 12 (objectives) and 15 to 28 (Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles) Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022 (Vic)

May be detained under an assessment order

If hospital staff have serious concerns for the patient's wellbeing, a doctor or mental health practitioner may make an assessment order. This assessment order allows the person to be assessed even if they do not agree to this. The purpose of an assessment order is to allow an authorised psychiatrist to make an assessment to decide whether a person meets the criteria for compulsory treatment under the Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022.

Compulsory patients can only be treated in designated mental health (public) hospitals and so if the patient is in a private hospital, they must be transferred to a designated mental health service if their voluntary status changes.

The doctor must explain that they are going to conduct the examination why it is necessary.

In the case of an inpatient assessment order there is a period of 72 hours to transport the person to the designated (public) hospital once the assessment order has been made.

The person can only be held against their wishes for 24 hours at a designated mental health service before being assessed. If after assessment the authorised psychiatrist is not able to decide whether the treatment order criteria apply, the assessment order can be extended twice for not more than 24 hours on each occasion.

See Assessment process (being diagnosed with a mental illness)

Community assessment orders

A community assessment order can also be made. A community assessment order is in force for a period of 24 hours. An authorised psychiatrist must examine the person to decide whether the treatment order criteria apply during this 24 hour period.

An impatient assessment order can be varied to a community assessment order. Similarly a community assessment order can be varied to an inpatient assessment order.

See s. 145—Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022 (Vic)(opens in a new window)

When an assessment order can be made

Before an assessment order can be made the doctor or mental health professional has to conduct an examination to find out if the following criteria apply:

  • the person appears to have a mental illness, and
  • because they appear to have a mental illness, they appear to need immediate treatment to prevent:
  • serious deterioration in the person's mental or physical health, or
  • serious harm to themselves or to any other person, and
  • if they are made subject to an assessment order they can be assessed, and
  • there must be no less restrictive way of assessing the person (that is, as a voluntary patient—if the person will agree to be assessed).

If these criteria do not apply to the person then the assessment order must be revoked.

See Assessment process (being diagnosed with a mental illness)

Temporary treatment orders

After a person has been examined under the assessment order, the authorised psychiatrist will put them on an inpatient temporary treatment order (TTO) if they are satisfied that the person meets 4 treatment criteria and decides that the person needs to be detained in an inpatient unit in a hospital to receive treatment. This is called an inpatient temporary treatment order (ITTO). If the psychiatrist believes that the criteria are met but the person can be treated in the community, they must make a community temporary treatment order (CTTO) instead.

An inpatient treatment order can only be made if the authorised psychiatrist is satisfied that treatment cannot be provided in the community.

The assessment has to be made by a different psychiatrist to the one who made the assessment order.

For details of the treatment criteria see Temporary treatment orders

More information

Legislation

Mental Health and Wellbeing Act 2022

  • s. 144—making of an assessment order
  • s. 147—how long an assessment order lasts
  • s. 148—contents of an assessment order

Updated